Gems and Jewels

A Timeline of Gemstone Discovery and Synthesis

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Christie Romero shares her enthusiasm with Denise Nelson and Bob Davis.

Christie Romero shares her enthusiasm with Denise Nelson and Bob Davis.

This month the Washington, DC chapter welcomed Christie Romero, who gave us the benefit of her expertise as jewelry historian and instructor with a talk on how the discovery and identification of gemstones has changed through the millennia.

Christie signing her books for members.

Christie signing her books for members.

Christie professes to have a “date obsession.” She is very interested in the historic development of different trends in jewelry and demonstrated this with a number of examples from ancient, medieval and modern periods.

Christie began by discussing gems and jewelry from ancient times, giving a survey on the discovery and use of gemstones in such locations as China, Iraq, Egypt, and Mexico. A highlight of this portion of the talk was Christie’s description of the oldest known diamond ring, from the 3rd century A.D.

Chapter Secretary-Treasurer Michele Zabel greets all attendees.

Chapter Secretary-Treasurer Michele Zabel greets all attendees.

From 3500 B.C. – the heart of the Bronze Age – Christie showed us a picture of what is considered the earliest personal adornment. It was a yellow jade boar, or perhaps a dragon, depending on how it is viewed (and according to what ancient bestiary one considers authoritative).

She also showed us the first emerald ring, dated 330-300 B.C., made in Greece. During this period there was much confusion over topaz and olivine because olivine (peridot) was found on the island of Topazos.

Part of our May, 2005 crowd for Christie Romero.

Part of our May, 2005 crowd for Christie Romero.

Moving forward through the centuries Christie related interesting facts such as Charlemagne’s decree that a person could not be buried with his or her jewelry. She explained that many cultures held the belief that gemstones could convey powers to the wearer – but only if they touched the skin.

Christie emphasized the commonly used method in the past of classifying gems by color (for example, all red stones as rubies, all blue stones as sapphires, etc). Only much later, and through greatly developed scientific tools and techniques of classification, would we find out that such important gems as the Black Prince’s Ruby, found and labeled in 1367, is actually a red spinel.

Christie made a fact-filled presentation.

Christie made a fact-filled presentation.

Christie explained how in the last three hundred years gemstone discovery became more geographically widespread, and the appeal of a greater variety of gemstones began to grow. By the 18th century diamonds were mainly found in India and Brazil. The “Dresden Green” diamond – an extremely rare color – was first presented to King George in 1722. In the 19th century, amethysts and alexandrites were discovered in Russia and tourmalines were found in Maine. Opals were popular in the late 1800s. The “Eureka” diamond was the first diamond found in South Africa in 1866-1867. The discovery of diamonds in South Africa is one of four factors that contributed to the wearing of diamonds in the last quarter of the 19th century. The other three are the rise of wealthy industrialists and financiers, improved diamond-cutting and setting techniques and machinery, and the invention of the electric light bulb in 1879.

President Toby Fitzkee has Christie picking the winning ticket.

President Toby Fitzkee has Christie picking the winning ticket.

Christie changed gears at this point to focus on synthetics in the 20th century. Among the milestones in this period were: the Verneuil flame fusion technique (1902), the Czachralski pull method (1918), and the introduction of Alexandrite-like corundum (1909). Synthetic sapphires were used widely in 1920-1925 with diamonds set in either white gold or platinum. There were natural pink diamonds from Australia’s Argyle mine in the 1990s

One of the reasons Christie’s talk was so fascinating was that she chose to illustrate her points by putting jewelry in context with pictures of places and artwork from the time that it was crafted. Christie presented a fabulous photo of the “Mughal,” a 217.8 carat emerald, inscribed and dated in India in 1695. She also showed us a revealing map of the ancient trade routes, which both started from and returned to Rome. This gave us a very illustrative account of how the places of gem discovery and trade affected one another.

President Fitzkee announces future speakers and events.

President Fitzkee announces future speakers and events.

Christie made important note of citing expertise, and quoted Jack Ogden, Rose Tozer and our own Fred Ward in support of her arguments and claims. She stressed the importance of having original documentation when citing the provenance of gems and jewelry, and that one should not simply repeat secondary source material, because she can, in so doing, unknowingly perpetuate incorrect information. Misnomers and misidentification can cause major confusion.

Lois Berger speaks to Christie about the use of pearls.

Lois Berger speaks to Christie about the use of pearls.

We were very fortunate to hear so much of the wonderful and educational history of gemstones and synthetic stones from Christie and recommend that anyone take advantage of her books and seminars at every opportunity!

Christie with chapter member Roger Bucy

Christie with chapter member Roger Bucy

– Allison Brady

Photographs by Bill Scherlag

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